Although most people are familiar with diabetes, fewer know about the eye-related complications. The increased glucose levels that are the essence of the disease can pose a risk to your eyes in a couple of ways.
There are a number of ways that diabetes, particularly when it is not controlled by medication, diet or exercise, can damage your eyes.
One of the primary risks of diabetes on your eyes is damage to the blood vessels that lead to the retina. This condition is one of the most common causes of blindness in adults and is called diabetic retinopathy.
The retina is the light-sensitive tissue located at the back of the eye, which is essential for proper vision. Retinal damage can cause permanent vision loss. While controlling diabetes reduces the chances of developing diabetic retinopathy, it does not completely eliminate the risk and this is why it is crucial to have an annual retinal exam.
Daily changes in blood sugar levels, a common condition in situations where diabetes is uncontrolled, can have an impact on the functioning of the eye's crystalline lens. Since glucose levels are associated with your lens's ability to maintain sharp focus, this can result in blurry vision that varies with blood sugar levels.
Cataracts occur when the lens of the eye becomes clouded and can also develop in diabetics. While cataracts are common in people over a certain age, the risk of developing cataracts at a younger age is increased in those with diabetes.
A person with diabetes is two times more at risk of developing glaucoma, an increase in pressure in the optic nerve resulting in damage to the optic nerve and eventually vision loss.
Having your diabetes under control is the best form of prevention for any of the eye and vision problems associated with the disease. In addition to controlling levels of glucose by means of diet and/or insulin, exercise and refraining from smoking can help. Since eye damage is often not noticeable until damage has occurred it is imperative to have regular yearly eye exams with an optometrist to detect any possible problems at the earliest stages. While it is common that vision loss caused by any of these conditions is irreparable, early diagnosis and treatment can often slow continuing damage.